(From 19 August 2012)
Greetings from 69*13’N 51*06’W.
I am now on Day 6 of my eight-day/seven-night adventure on Sarfaq Ittuk, the coastal ferry operated by Arctic Umiaq Line that goes up and down the west coast of Greenland between Qaqortoq in the south and Ilulissat in the north. We have reached the northernmost town on the line, Ilulissat, which means I have now seen all of the ports on this ship’s route (and consequently, most of the towns on the west coast). I am quite proud to say that I have officially stepped foot in 16 places in Greenland, covering all five regions except for the National Park! Of course, most of these were for quite short periods of time – a couple of hours at most – but I have at least gotten an initial impression of them.
This has absolutely been an amazing experience because it has been so educational on so many levels, and I would recommend it to every person that comes to Greenland! The most important thing about this trip for me is that I have seen REAL Greenland. There are, of course, many interpretations of this term, but any time I have heard Greenlanders using it, they are juxtaposing a town to Nuuk. So I think for Greenlanders it is all about the level of Danish influence. Also, for me it is related to the level of tourism influence. For example, a town like Ilulissat may not have a lot of Danish aspects, but the presence of tourists and businesses that cater to tourists does have an impact on the authenticity of the town.
I suppose I sound a bit hypocritical talking negatively about tourism when here I am trying to make a career out of the industry! But, in my defense, I am concentrating on Sustainable Destination Management, so it is my concern to think critically about the negative effects of tourism on a local community. Having now seen Greenlandic towns where tourism is in its infancy yet growing, I am inspired to help keep tourism’s negative impact to a minimum and preserve REAL Greenland.
The other thing about this trip that has contributed to my REAL Greenland experience is being in such close contact with the locals. I realized after the first couple of days that this was so impactful because it was the most I had ever heard the Greenlandic language spoken. In Nuuk, I really only hear it for a second on the city bus or passing people in conversation on the sidewalk. Otherwise, I hear Danish at home with my host family as well as at work 99% of the time. It was a reality check and a little embarrassing to realize that yes, I see Greenlanders every day and live in their country, but no, I never really interact with them for extended periods of time. Sailing on Sarfaq Ittuk gave me that opportunity. I met quite a lot of the staff and also passengers. One woman in particular was very nice and struck up a conversation with me; her name was Magga-Rose. We even exchanged phone numbers so that we can meet up in Nuuk some time. Also, the Ship Guide, Linda, from Ilulissat has become a good friend, and I hope to keep in contact with her, too! I definitely wish I had done this a long time ago!
A final stream of consciousness about REAL Greenland – how would the Greenlanders in Nuuk feel basically being called “Fake Greenland” by comparison? Perhaps the older members who have moved to Nuuk from elsewhere do not take too much offense, but what about the younger generations who are born and raised in Nuuk? I wonder, is there any discrimination between people from Nuuk and people from the rest of the country? It is interesting to consider this sentiment in terms of the only other country that I have lived in and know well – the United States. There is regional pride in the United States, but unfortunately, I think that conviction and level of identity only comes with political allegiance.
The second most important thing about this trip for me is that I have seen a range of community sizes in Greenland. As I mentioned earlier, I have seen sixteen locations throughout the country thanks to this trip and the Taste of Greenland trip. I really feel now that I have quite a good overall impression of the inhabited portions of Greenland. I have seen extremely small settlements such as Oqaatsut with 40 residents… small settlements such as Qeqertarsuatsiaat, Kangaamiut, and Arsuk with less than 500 residents… towns such as Uummannaq, Aasiaat, Maniitsoq, Paamiut, Narsaq, and Qaqortoq with 1,000 – 3,000 or so residents… airport towns such as Qaarsut, Kangerlussuaq, and Kulusuk… larger towns such as Ilulissat and Sisimiut with 5,000 residents… and of course, the big city of Nuuk with 16,000 residents.